Protecting IP ownership and rights in the Netherlands: 6 things employers need to know


Jun 8, 2023

Maintaining the exclusive right to your intellectual property gives you an edge over your competitors as a global company. But as you expand and hire talent in the Netherlands, you must prioritize your intellectual property (IP) strategy as you may not have the same protection you’re used to at your headquarters.

The Netherlands has various IP protections to safeguard your trade secrets and even bundle your applications if you’re expanding to other European Union markets. Keep reading to learn how to navigate the IP protections available in the Netherlands for your company and how to leverage the first-to-file registration before entering the Dutch market. 

Note: our guide is for informational purposes, and isn’t intended to provide legal advice.

1. The Netherlands has 9 types of protection for intellectual property rights

The Netherlands has several types of protection for IP rights, from the standard copyright to the more niche plant breeders’ rights. Some IP rights are automatic, and for others, you must register for them to become active.

IP rights you have to register for:

  • Patents. Protect an invention or technical process, making it unlawful for others to use, resell, or make unless under an approved license.
  • Trademark rights. Protect your company’s logo, brand name, product, design packaging, or service.
  • Design rights. Protect brand-new 2D and 3D products and their design.
  • Plant breeders’ rights. Protect plant breeders’ new found plant varieties following an inspection via the Netherlands Inspection Service for Horticulture.

IP rights that are automatic, but you may need to register for to enforce:

  • Copyright. The Dutch Copyright Act automatically protects the copyright of works of literature, science, and art from the moment the work is created, as long as it's original work.
  • Database rights. Database rights protect against ordered data reuse within databases and are governed by copyright law.
  • Trade name law. Your trade name is protected by law under the Trade Names Act. This law ensures that the name under which your business operates is safeguarded.
  • Semiconductor topography rights. To protect the IP rights of the design of electronic circuits on computer chips, obtaining a patent from the Netherlands patent office is necessary. This patent will protect the semiconductors, including chips and microprocessors.

2. Non-disclosure clauses are not default in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, employment contracts do not automatically include confidentiality as a requirement. Therefore, employers must take responsibility for safeguarding their company's confidential information by using a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). 

If a breach of contract occurs, an employer can enforce the penalty clause outlined in the agreement. The NDA should clearly state which information is considered confidential, what is considered public domain, and any exclusions.

3. Trade secrets are safeguarded under the Trade Secret Protection Act

In cases where a trade secret can’t be patented, the Trade Secrets Protection Act comes into play. The Trade Secrets Protection Act protects trade secrets against theft, economic espionage, and unauthorized copying. 

It's worth noting that in the Netherlands, there is currently no system in place for registering trade secrets and confidential information, such as research data, technological knowledge, and client data. Hence, the responsibility falls on the employer. 

To be eligible under the act, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Your trade secret should be a secret.
  • Your trade secret should have value. 
  • You must have taken precautions to keep the information secret. 

Note: The employment agreement must include details about keeping trade secrets confidential and a reasonable non-compete clause.

4. You can digitally record a product or service via i-DEPOT

If you want to keep certain information, such as customer databases, away from competitors, you can protect it as a trade secret. Use i-DEPOT, a digital safe deposit box, to store and designate this information. It even provides a digital date stamp as proof of existence at a specific legal date.

Record your product, service, process, or company's development quickly and easily with the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP). This is especially helpful for entrepreneurs that need immediate IP protection or to share a patented invention without risking IPR.

5. Bundle patent, design, and trademark registrations if you’re working in other European Union markets

If the Netherlands is the first stop in a bigger European market expansion and strategy, you can consider bundling patent, design, and trademark registrations through the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the European Patent Office. It will give your company protection in all European Union member states in one procedure.

You can also register just in the Netherlands by visiting the local Dutch patent office or, for a trademark or design registration, the EUIPO office.

6. The Netherlands has a first-to-file registration system

As a global company, it's crucial to have an IP rights strategy in place before entering the European Union and the Netherlands. This is because they follow a first-to-file registration system, and some IP registrations from other countries may not be sufficient for protection in the Netherlands without extra paperwork. To safeguard your company's intellectual property rights and exclusivity in the European market, it's crucial to have a strategy that ensures compliance with Dutch law for patents, designs, trademarks, and copyrights.

Frequently asked questions about IP law in the Netherlands

Who owns IP in the Netherlands: employee or employer?

According to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, intellectual property ownership depends on the employment contract. The employer must prepare a contract that explicitly specifies that any IP or invention created by the employee during their employment belongs to the employer.

This is usually covered by a waiver clause stating that all inventions the employee makes belong to the employer unless otherwise specified. This ensures clarity about who has the right to the patent and can file the patent application.

What is an IP assignment agreement?

In the Netherlands, an IP assignment declaration is a legal agreement between the inventor and the acquirer to transfer the copyright and claims to patent rights from the inventor to another party.

It is commonly used when a company or individual wants to acquire or transfer intellectual property rights, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, or trade secrets.

How do you know the IP was successfully transferred?

Under Dutch law, transferring ownership of intellectual property involves two steps: a sales contract outlining the obligation to transfer and a deed of assignment–a written declaration of the IP transfer. Simply signing a sales contract does not automatically make the buyer the IP owner. To officially transfer ownership, the buyer must complete a written deed of transfer that assigns the IP rights to them.

Upon signing the deed, the buyer becomes the new owner of the IP rights, regardless of whether or not it has been registered in the relevant IP registers in the Netherlands.

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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: July 19, 2023

The Author

Muriel Vega

A freelance tech and B2B writer based in Atlanta, Muriel focuses her work on human resources and workplace trends and creating engaging content for SaaS companies. She has traveled the world, but her favorite place to work is Mexico City.